2012 June – Lead Poisoning, Part 3

Condor 246 shortly before he died from lead poisoning

Condor 246 shortly before he died from lead poisoning


Hunting is not the enemy; lead is. The licensing fees and other costs hunters pay in order to pursue their pastime are the very sources of revenue that fund our state and federal conservation programs. Without them, the system that stewards over our wildlife and wilderness areas would simply fall apart. Many of the unintended deaths resulting from lead rounds are likely because of ignorance of lead’s dangers, not ambivalence. Until the day comes when lead bullets are no longer the dominant product in the market, sharing knowledge remains a critical defense: hunters who learn the damage that even a single sliver of lead can do to a bald eagle might be more conscious about scanning the gut pile left over after field dressing their deer. Or, they might pack it out with them, eliminating the danger entirely.

What other steps can be taken?

Alternative ammunitions are gradually appearing on the market, and as more companies shift to a post-lead future, these new rounds will become increasingly available and affordable. There are many factors, economic and otherwise, that might influence what ammunition a given hunter buys, but raising awareness of the potential dangers could help influence that choice, or at the very least, encourage responsible hunting. To a lesser extent, the same also applies to fishing: lead sinkers are often swallowed by fish, and in such a way get swallowed by raptors like ospreys and bald eagles. While far less contentious, switching to non-lead sinkers is itself a responsible choice to enjoy an honored tradition without threatening the beautiful birds who themselves are just out to fish.

In some cases, the shift away from lead bullets is already accelerating. Bans on lead ammunition are far more common for waterfowl hunters, because changing the metal pellet in a shotgun shell doesn’t affect the ballistics in the same way that a different metal with a different weight affects a rifle shot. Additionally, legislation has already been passed in some areas, restricting or even eliminating lead bullets outright. Perhaps most famously, a 2008 California law banned all lead ammunition types from regions inhabited by the critically endangered California condor.

Liberty Wildlife recently treated one of the Grand Canyon’s condors for lead poisoning. That bird didn’t make it, and his death was both agonizing and pointless, an unintended consequence of a bullet that wasn’t even fired at him. Condor 246 is the kind of catalyst that could and should be used to promote awareness of lead’s dangers, but in a responsible way. We can’t bring 246 back, any more than we can instantly reverse the other environmental catastrophes befalling our world. Lead killed Condor 246, a blow against the fragile recovery process trying to bring the species back. Lead, though, is but one man-made symptom among many that brought these birds to the edge of extinction to begin with. Lead is but one more symptom of an imperfect species: us.

Lead, habitat destruction, pesticides, poisons, pollution, encroachment; every blow being struck against the world seems to come from our hands. In this case, though, curing the symptoms can halt the disease. Man’s destructive hands can be the same tools that put the world back together. Everything comes back to knowledge; knowledge and inclusion. It’s easier to change a mind than it is to change the world, but every mind changed, every point raised, every ally gained, is one more step in the right direction. It’s one more hunter who shoots copper, or carries his gut pile out.

It’s one more animal saved.



5 Responses to 2012 June – Lead Poisoning, Part 3

  1. Carol says:

    Well said, Greg. Thank you for a balanced, thoughtful piece. If we can continue to encourage people to keep lead from causing collateral damage to our wildlife, I’m a happy camper!

  2. Peggy says:

    Thank you, Greg, for your very moving and eloquent article on lead poisoning. I sincerely hope it generates thoughtful (and civil) discussion about the use of lead, as it is a poison to every living thing on this earth.

  3. Judy Droz says:

    Bravo Gregory! Your article is fair and informative. I hope it reaches many so these important messages get in front of the people who need to see them. Keep writing for Nature News! Excellent article.

  4. Lora Aleo says:

    I would like to be able to share on other mediums this article.

  5. Michael Sorum says:

    True, education is the most important aspect of changing people’s beliefs. However, in animal welfare or any other issue, laws are necessary because there are some people, hunters or not, that just don’t care.

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